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Boyd, John Parker (21 December 1764–04 October 1830), army officer and soldier of fortune, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of James Boyd and Susanna (maiden name unknown). He developed military interests as a boy, and in 1786 he was appointed ensign in a Massachusetts infantry regiment suppressing Shays’s Rebellion (see ...

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Croghan, George (15 November 1791–08 January 1849), inspector general of the U.S. Army, was born at the family’s country seat, “Locust Grove,” on the Ohio River east of Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Major William Croghan, a surveyor and entrepreneur, and Lucy Clark. His mother was the sister of both the explorer ...

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Mason, Richard Barnes (16 January 1797–27 July 1850), army officer and military governor of California, was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, the son of George Mason (1753–1796) and Elizabeth Mary Ann Barnes Hooe, planters. Although his family was prominent—his grandfather, George Mason (1725–1792), had been a member of the Constitutional Convention—young Mason’s father died before he was born, and an elder brother inherited the family estate. In 1817 Mason received a commission as second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Army and embarked on a lifelong military career. Promoted to captain in 1819, he served at garrisons in the Old Northwest and earned a reputation as a stern disciplinarian. At Fort Howard in 1821 he was nearly killed when a soldier, whom he had struck for making an impertinent remark, shot him in the chest with a load of pigeon shot....

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Riley, Bennet (27 November 1787–09 June 1853), army officer and military governor of California, was born probably in St. Marys County, Maryland. Although little is known of his parentage, his birthplace is also ascribed to Alexandria, Virginia. Riley was commissioned ensign in the elite Regiment of Riflemen on 19 January 1813 and assigned to the company of Captain Benjamin Forsyth. Forsyth was the most notorious partisan officer of the War of 1812, and Riley distinguished himself in several engagements. He rose to third lieutenant on 12 March 1813, became a second lieutenant on 15 April 1814, and was present at the 28 June skirmish at Odelltown, Lower Canada, in which Forsyth was killed. Riley subsequently commanded a detachment of riflemen who, on August 10, avenged their fallen commander by ambushing and fatally wounding Captain Joseph St. Valier Mallioux, a noted Canadian officer. One month later he fought in the 11 September 1814 defense of Plattsburgh, New York, and won commendation from General ...

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Washington, John Macrae ( October 1797–24 December 1853), army officer and military governor of New Mexico, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of Baily Washington, a planter, and Euphan Wallace. Influenced by financial problems caused by his father’s death, young Washington entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1814, and he graduated in 1817. Commissioned a third lieutenant in the Corps of Artillery, he spent the next few years in garrison duty at Charleston, South Carolina, and in Florida. As the result of the reduction and reorganization of the army in 1821, he was arranged to the Fourth Artillery Regiment, the unit in which he would serve for most of his career. During 1824–1826 he was stationed at the Artillery School of Practice at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and he was on staff duty in the ordnance service from 1827 to 1833. Promoted to captain in 1832, Washington participated in the government’s controversial policy of American Indian removal. He saw action in the brief Creek campaign of 1836 and for the next three years engaged in the army’s frustrating guerrilla war against the elusive Seminoles in Florida. During the war scare with Great Britain of 1839–1842, caused by the filibustering “Patriots” and the Maine–New Brunswick boundary controversy, his company was stationed on the Canadian border, first at Detroit and later Buffalo, New York. As a young officer, he married Fanny Macrae, with whom he had three children....